Results or Justice?

Would you sacrifice justice for positive results?

Let’s say someone introduces a program — say a combination of education and neighborhood watch, or something — that has been shown to reduce the level of crime in a neighborhood. In towns and neighborhoods that have instituted this program, there are only 10% of the muggings, 10% of the burglaries, 10% of the murders, etc. as there were before the program was instituted.

Unfortunately, this comes at a cost: none of the crimes that do occur are punished. Perhaps the cops are too busy managing the new program to show up in court, or maybe it’s an integral part of the program.

Would you be in favor of this program being instituted in your own neighborhood?

Before you come up with an answer like “no, because of the influx of criminals from neighboring areas who know they can get away with murder”, consider the subject of this post: I’m not proposing a specific program, but rather asking whether you would rather be more secure from Bad Things, or have justice.

Intellectually, it seems that the reason we have police, courts, prisons, etc. is to lower the number of Bad Things that happen to people. So if detox programs result in fewer junkies mugging people to get their fix, compared to imprisonment, then presumably the sensible thing to do is to institute detox programs, since that furthers the ultimate goal of having fewer muggings.

However, the dilemma posed above, and specifically the part about criminals getting off scot-free, seems repugnant. Murderers shouldn’t be able to get away with, well, murder. Someone who does something bad deserves to have something bad happen to them in return. It’s only fair, right?

I suspect that evolutionary psychology has an explanation for why we should desire justice. Our distant ancestors may have hit on the notion of justice, which led to retribution, which led to anticipation of retribution, which led to an overall reduction in Bad Things happening to the tribe. But if that’s the case, then feelings of justice are just one way of achieving the goal of social stability, and we as thinking people ought to be prepared to relinquish it if a better tool comes along.

Then again, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe justice is desirable for its own sake, but I can’t see why.

Discuss.

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